Can Chickens Eat Alfalfa? Is it Safe?

Alfalfa has been raised as provender for livestock for millennia in various places around the globe, a practice that continues to this very day.

Although it’s typically thought of as feed for larger animals like horses and cattle, other animals can eat alfalfa and not just mammals at that.

a chicken eating alfalfa leaves
a chicken eating alfalfa leaves

How about our precious chickens? Will chickens eat alfalfa, and is it safe?

Yes, alfalfa is safe for chickens and highly nutritious in various forms. Alfalfa is loaded with protein, vitamins and minerals that chickens need.

It turns out that Alfalfa has a lot of benefits for them just like for other livestock, and though it should not be the primary component of your chickens’ diet, it is a wonderful supplement that can give them lots of the things they need to grow strong and healthy.

But as you would probably expect by now, there is more you’ll need to know if you want to keep them safe. I’ll tell you all about it down below…

What Benefits Does Alfalfa Have for Chickens?

As mentioned alfalfa is packed with both macronutrients and micronutrients that are vital for chickens, and so it has many benefits.

The protein content of alfalfa is especially important for growing chickens and laying hands since they are both going to be burning through resources faster than other chickens.

The nutrients present in alfalfa can improve healing factors and feathering, the oxygenation of the blood, blood clotting capability and heart health, and overall metabolism by enhancing cellular function and skeletal health – specifically for growing chickens or any chicken that is healing after injury.

But alfalfa has even more benefits for laying hens since the calcium content will greatly improve the strength of eggshells.

This will naturally increase the viability of the eggs, of course, but it also helps to reduce risk to the hen also: hens that have an egg get stuck inside their body can become egg-bound, and an egg that breaks internally before she can lay it is usually a life-threatening condition.

Strong eggshells mean good eggs, and happy hens, so that’s reason enough to include alfalfa in the diet of your flock!

Alfalfa Nutritional Info

Alfalfa has a truly respectable complement of vitamins and minerals to go along with its protein and carbohydrates that can supply chickens with energy.

Looking first at the vitamins, we see that most of the B-complex vitamins are present, though in variable quantities.

There is not much in the way of niacin or vitamin B6, but there’s a good amount of thiamine and a great amount of riboflavin, pantothenic acid and folate. Alfalfa also notably has a great amount of vitamin K.

The mineral content is similarly uneven but definitely noteworthy and there is much here that chickens need.

The standout minerals are phosphorus, manganese, magnesium, and iron along with a great shot of zinc. Alfalfa is very low in sodium, potassium and calcium, however.

What do Chickens prefer eating in the pasture? alfalfa

Is Alfalfa Safe for Chickens Raw?

Yes, alfalfa is completely safe for chickens when raw, and a dependably good way to give it to them.

Chickens generally like young and tender alfalfa, but stronger birds will still eat tougher stalks without too much trouble. Raw alfalfa keeps most of its vitamins and minerals, making it a good option as a supplemental feed.

Are Alfalfa Feeds Safe for Chickens?

Yes. There are many kinds of alfalfa feeds sold for livestock, and they usually come in the form of pellets.

However, these pellets are typically for larger animals and way too big for chickens so you’ll need to crush them or break them down first.

Alfalfa feed is a great way to keep some on hand and fresh for serving to chickens on an as-needed basis.

Is Alfalfa Hay Safe for Chickens?

Yes, alfalfa hay is safe for chickens. However, most chickens prefer the fresh stuff to hay, though they will peck around in the hay looking for choice bits and seeds.

Are Alfalfa Sprouts Safe for Chickens?

Yes, they sure are. Highly controversial at times for human consumption, sprouts are a great way to bring the benefits of alfalfa to your birds.

Alfalfa sprouts are actually more nutritious than alfalfa hay, boasting higher levels of vitamins and minerals as well as protein content, and they are tiny, tender and easy to eat, making them a wonderful option for feeding your chickens.

Sprouting them yourself isn’t hard, but it is an extra step in the process, and they do require care if you aren’t buying them pre-sprouted.

Can You Cook Alfalfa to Give it To Chickens?

You can, but there is no good reason to cook alfalfa for chickens unless you are trying to salvage some really tough, mature alfalfa plants.

Cooking alfalfa will also kill off vital vitamins and minerals, lowering its benefits, so it is best to give chickens fresh alfalfa when possible.

Is Alfalfa Still Safe for Baby Chicks?

Yes, alfalfa is safe for chicks but you should note that they shouldn’t be fed any until they are at least 6 weeks of age.

Yes, alfalfa is natural and nutritious, but chicks often struggle with leafy green foods that don’t slow adults down at all. Crop impaction is always a risk for chicks, as is diarrhea or other digestive issues from novel foods.

It might feel like you are depriving them of something good, but for their safety and health, wait until the chicks are at least 6 weeks old before you start introducing them to alfalfa. They’ll do fine on feed in the meantime.

How Frequently Can Alfalfa Be Fed to Chickens?

Alfalfa is a good supplement for chickens, but not something they should eat all the time, and definitely not a mainstay for their diet.

Alfalfa is not nutritionally complete, and chickens that fill up on it will miss out on the benefits of other, better foods.

So, because of that feed your chickens alfalfa a couple of times a week at most, and only as a small snack or sort of side dish to their usual food.

What’s the Best Way to Serve Alfalfa to Your Flock?

However it comes, alfalfa is easy to serve to chickens. Pellets can be broken down into bits and scattered or placed in feeders.

Sprouts are easily pecked off of the ground. Raw alfalfa can be stacked or hung from the walls of the run, or from overhead to let your chickens nibble at it.

Just be sure to avoid giving them too much, or take up the alfalfa once they have had enough. Don’t ever let your chickens eat as much as they want!

Try to Only Feed Alfalfa to Chickens if it is Pesticide-Free

If giving your chickens raw alfalfa or sprouts, one thing to be concerned with is the presence of pesticides.

Alfalfa is often treated with lots of unnatural chemicals to help it grow faster and keep it safe from insect pests or diseases, and many of these chemical residues can mean major health issues for birds, including your chickens.

It follows that you should try to only buy organic alfalfa from a trusted supplier. It is more expensive, but it’s a small investment to make in the health of your birds.

Don’t Leave Alfalfa Around the Run or Coop

Alfalfa has a troubling tendency to rot and mold very quickly, and this can turn it from a healthy snack to a health hazard if you don’t clean it up.

Chickens that come around to old, moldy alfalfa and continue to nibble on it could get sick, so you should make it a point to clean up what you can once your flock is done with it.

Try to also make sure that you only put down just enough so that all chickens can get a portion, but not so much that there will be lots of leftovers. This makes cleanup a snap.

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